Audit Finds Lack of Fingerprint Background Checks for Longtime SPS Employees

By Linda Ong |

Published 06/10 2014 05:31PM

Updated 06/11 2014 01:39AM

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- Fingerprint-based background checks have not been performed on Springfield Public Schools employees hired before 2005. That's the finding from an internal audit released Tuesday.

Superintendent Norm Ridder requested the audit after the abduction and murder of Hailey Owens.

The suspect in that case, Craig Wood, worked for the school district since 1998 as a football coach and paraprofessional.

The audit resulted in six findings with various recommendations by the internal auditor, Wayland Mueller.

The most notable of the findings includes the lack of background checks for employees hired prior to 2005.

“There are a significant number of employees here at the district that was hired before January 1 of ‘05,” says Mueller.

These hires were not subject to fingerprint-based background checks, according the audit.

“The state statute that new hires as of January 1, 2005, and later, are required to have a fingerprinting-based background check performed,” says Mueller. “But before that, that was not the requirement.”

More than 1,000 Springfield Public Schools employees were hired before the 2005 state law mandate. Meaning, they weren't subject to fingerprint background checks.

“One of my recommendations is to consider going back and fingerprinting employees that were hired before that date just as an added precaution,” says Mueller.

“Prior to 2005, the district used a name-check process, which checked the criminal history of employees throughout the state of Missouri,” says Parker McKenna, with Springfield Public Schools.

McKenna says the district's current hiring process requires the state-mandated fingerprint background check, as well as a family care registry check.

Bolivar schools also use both forms of background checks.

Other districts in the Ozarks use additional checkpoints. Willard looks up local sex offender lists, while Ozark schools require volunteers and contractors to adhere to background checks, as well.

“Background checks are just one tool in our processes to keep our students and staff safe,” says McKenna.

McKenna says providing as much information as possible is key to ensure the safety of students and staff, but that even these measures aren't fool-proof.

“It’s not possible to predict,” he says. “Sometimes past behavior doesn't always predict future behavior, unfortunately.”

McKenna said Springfield Public Schools is considering Mueller’s recommendation of requiring fingerprint background checks for employees hired before 2005. That process is estimated to cost about $64000.

McKenna said the district will be developing a set of recommendations based on the internal audit and will present it to the board in the next 60 days.

For Linda Ong's full report, tune in to KOLR10 at 6 p.m. (June 10, 2014)

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